How does grief express itself physically? how do we respond physically? what does grief physically do to your body? And what are the common physical symptoms of grief?
When I returned home from the hospital, I was extremely clueless about what to do next. The news about my wife, Chidinma’s unexpected death had reached my siblings who lived quite a distance from us.
My brother had just begun a family with their son who was also 4 months at the time, I imagined how they were also learning to adjust to life as new parents. Our youngest sibling, whom we referred to as our (Tochi’s) firstborn was also with them at the time.
I remember our conversation as they mentioned that they were on their way to me. I can’t imagine how fast they had to pack their stuff to get to me.
I debated with them and our close friends about not wanting to see anyone or even wanting anyone to enter the house. I went from wardrobe to wardrobe not sure what I was searching for, turning her clothes over in disbelief that I would never see her wear them again.
I wanted to be alone with our children, Anisa and Josiah for as long as I could (who by the way were still being cared for by our pastors in Bedford). My siblings persistence and determination to still come and wait outside until I was ready is still something I am grateful for.
Oh, let me just say, I had no idea what was to come.
I never knew that what was propping me up from experiencing the chronic pain that was coming was adrenaline and shock because of the news I had just received. Think about it like how local anaesthetic works by blocking the way nerves carry pain signals to the brain.
It began to sink in that indeed my wife, Chidinma had died, the reality of her death began to slowly sink in. The events surrounding her death kept playing on an endless loop in my mind. They were accompanied by sad thoughts, and the emotions came in waves, with brief periods of respite.
My physical expression of grief
As this reality began to sink in, it felt like when a painkiller or the local anaesthetic begins to wear off after a dental procedure. I would begin to have a throbbing, tingling, and burning sensation in my head and chest. I could hear my heartbeat louder, and at times I would feel sharp pains to the extent that I would have to hit my chest for some relief.
My muscles felt strained like one who had been lifting weights at the gym, I would experience muscle spasms, twitching and intermittent pain which would appear for a few brief moments then disappear. Sometimes it would last for minutes but I tell you, they felt like hours. These, added to the extreme fatigue, with nausea, headaches, food aversion, sleep deprivation continued for many months.
I have often wondered why is it that in some movies, when a character receives some sad news, sometimes about the loss of their loved one they either appear lethargic, cover their mouth weeping, and if they’re standing, they somehow slide into a fall position almost collapsing or some begin to run. I found myself wanting to run, to run as fast and far away from all these as possible.
I had a deep yearning for her, a deep longing to see, hold her hands, and at the same time coming to terms that I will never see Chidinma on this side of eternity. I had a loss of purpose, loss of hope for the future, I felt anxious as though another impending doom would happen any moment, I could see myself drifting and feeling removed from everything else happening around me.
I decided one early evening that I was going out for a walk. I wanted to be alone, alone with my thoughts somewhere else away from the house or anyone. Those who were home with me whom I saw briefly on a daily basis, to mark the register that I am still breathing, were worried that I wanted to go for a walk. I imagined that they were concerned that I might do something dangerous.
I can understand why they felt that way, I was asking a lot of challenging questions, some around the span of one’s life. I would experience overwhelming feelings of anxiety and I started catastrophizing every situation, what happened to Chidinma is so unlikely and almost impossible, but it happened. It felt like the rug was pulled from under me without any warning.
I made statements like no one is guaranteed to live long and when my own time was up then it was up. They reluctantly agreed to let me go for a walk as long as they assigned a chaperone to go with me.
Would walking be good for me? Would it relax my grief related aching muscles? Would it relieve the pain and sorrow I feel in my heart?
I never knew one could be so empty and yet have an endless loop of questions and scenes that nagged at you. The only time I had relief was when I slept which lasted 3 hours at best. The best of prayers remained deep groans and sporadic moments of asking the Holy Spirit to help. These feelings are not feelings that I would wish on anyone, not even on my worst enemy.
There are times that I didn’t want to be consoled when crying and I found it difficult to say to those in the house that “if you hear me crying, please don’t come into my room.” I knew that they were grieving too, they were being “strong” for me and holding my hands through this.. I then devised alternative ways to cry. Truth be told, times, when I was held crying, were soothing and comforting, but I was tired of being comforted.
I would go into the bathroom, open the tap and shower and spend long moments laying on the floor crying to let out deep soul quiet sobbing and at times I would cry into the pillow with my face pressed as far in to muffle the sound. Sooner or later, they found out!
I knew that I suddenly wanted to walk. I am not sure why I went for the walk; maybe it was to pray, to be alone, to tire myself out, to reflect, to think, to cry as loud and as long as I could? To see her? Each time I went for a walk, I would wear the last piece of scarf and jacket that she wore, it made me feel closer to her. I went for the walk hoping that when I returned home, she would be home.
The first walk was painful, it was because almost everyone I saw across the street or walked past me reminded me of what I will never have with Chidinma. It was either a couple walking hand in hand or young families strolling down the street with their toddlers or new parents pushing a buggy with their newborn or older couples riding a bicycle.
Nowhere felt safe to escape from the reminders of what my wife, Chidinma and I would never have.
I began to take detours and followed paths that I didn’t know where they were going to lead to so I could see fewer people.
I would go walking for 2-3 hours at a go each day because I had to go for me. It didn’t matter how little strength I had, going for the walks felt like something was moving. It wasn’t about the scenery, everything already looked and felt dull; it was about moving.
I would always find new paths; I would certainly almost always get lost in some farm or woodland but somehow, I always made it back home.
I’d love to share your coping with grief story too.
I intend to expand the blog and resources on the website to include stories of other people who have lost a loved one, not limited to losing a spouse. I’d love to hear about how you handled grief. Would you please let me know if you would like to share your story?
I am also open to having anyone anonymised if that’s your preferred option. Complete the contact us form with the text “I would like to share my story.”
To Be Continued Next Wednesday…
I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below. Thank you.